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Student’s plea to understand depression wins Cincinnati Rotary’s speech contest

Sarah Johnson of Finneytown has seen the effects of depression in friends and family. Her eloquent call for understanding and action won the Rotary Club of Cincinnati’s 4-Way Test Speech Competition on Feb. 20.

The Junior at the School for Creative & Performing Arts was one of four finalists from across Greater Cincinnati competing to represent the Rotary Club of Cincinnati at the Regional speech finals on April 8 at Wright State University. That competition draws high school students from across Southwest Ohio and Northern Kentucky.

Other students competing at the Rotary Club of Cincinnati event were Liam O’Shaughnessy of Wyoming, for Wyoming High School, Astrid Conte Pena of Mt. Washington, for Clark Montessori, and Yousuf Munir of Amberley Village for Walnut Hills High School. Each student received a cash prize and a letter of recognition from the Rotary Club of Cincinnati.

O’Shaughnessy talked about the power and value of therapy in dealing with mental health issues and reclaiming joy in living. Pena held the audience rapt as she talked about her experience as a legal immigrant from the Dominican Republic, and the mirror experiences of those who cannot use the term “legal,” but bring skills, determination and value to this country.

Munir made a compelling case for expanding sex education in all Ohio public schools to include safe sex, medically accurate information and healthy relationships as well as the current emphasis on abstinence.

“The depth of the subject matter and the power of their arguments exceeded what you might expect,” said Cincinnati Enquirer columnist Byron McCauley, who was one of the judges for the competition.

“We heard a ton of wisdom, backed up with facts and figures,” said McCauley, of Madisonville.

“Sarah really humanized her speech with her own experience,” he said.

Each speech had to incorporate the Rotary’s 4-Way Test – the ethical standard that calls on Rotary members to assure that everything they think, do or say is the truth, is fair to all concerned, will build goodwill and better friendships and will be beneficial to all concerned.

Rotarians began visiting high schools in fall of 2019 to meet with faculty advisors and encourage students to compete. They also led coaching sessions with students and helped judge the in-school competitions.

Judges at the Feb. 20 event were Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati’s Producing Director D. Lynn Meyers of Bridgetown, Hamilton County Commissioner Denise Driehaus of Fairview Heights, WKRC News Anchor Kyle Inskeep of Walnut Hills, Cincinnati Enquirer columnist Byron McCauley of Madisonville and Hamilton County Clerk of Courts Aftab Pureval of Clifton.

Co-chairs of the event were Laure Quinlivan of Mt. Lookout and Ed Mathis of Monfort Heights.

“Teachers tell us our Rotary speech contest helps students learn to structure persuasive speeches,” said Quinlivan. “By competing to be the best speaker at their school for our event, students develop confidence from the experience of public speaking. ’ “I love coaching the students because they are so inspiring, and it’s eye-opening for us,” said Quinlivan. “We get a window into what teenage minds are fired up about.”

Mathis said the students combine courage, sincerity and passion.

“It’s such an amazing process to observe each student speak in front of a large audience about complex topics such as mental health, race, etc.,” Mathis said.

“Each student’s goal is not only to speak from the heart but to get the audience to understand their viewpoint.”

The winning student at the regional competition at Wright State University will be invited to give their speech at the April 28 Rotary District Conference in Springfield, Ohio.

The Rotary Club of Cincinnati is a service and networking organization for business and community leaders. With close to 350 members, it is the largest and oldest Rotary Club in Greater Cincinnati. For information on The Rotary Club of Cincinnati see Peggy Kreimer Hodgson, Rotary Club of Cincinnati

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